A three-member Taliban technical team arrived in the Afghan capital in late March to oversee the release of their prisoners as part of a peace deal signed by the Taliban and the US (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
Landmark peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan Government have come to a grinding halt after a disagreement over the US-brokered agreement to release Taliban prisoners.
- A Taliban spokesperson labelled the peace talks as ‘fruitless’ after clashes with the Afghan Government over a prisoner swap
- The Government says the Taliban is making unreasonable demands and wants high-ranking prisoners released
- The deal has been touted to be the best chance to end the 18-year-long war
The prisoner exchange deal, signed in February as a gesture of mutual trust, is a major part in the peace talks brokered by the United States, after it agreed to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in exchange for a guarantee that no extremist group would be allowed to operate in the regions they control.
The Taliban say the Afghan Government is delaying the release of prisoners, while Afghan officials say the militants are unreasonably demanding the release of senior commanders involved in some of the most violent attacks in recent years.
Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Islamist insurgent group’s political office in Qatar, said they would not participate in “fruitless meetings” and the release of their prisoners was being “delayed under one pretext or another”.
The late February pact between the US and the Taliban is the best chance yet of ending the 18-year war.
But peace hinges on talks between the US-backed Afghan Government and the militants. A prisoner exchange is meant to build confidence on both sides for those talks.
Under the agreement, US-led troops would withdraw from the country within 14 months, as long as the Taliban uphold their side of the deal.
A spokesman for the Government said it would maintain its work on the prisoner release plan.
“We ask the Taliban to not sabotage the process by making excuses now,” said Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the National Security Council in Kabul.
The Taliban suspension of the talks could lead to an escalation of violence, which in turn could threaten the plan to withdraw US troops, a major objective of President Donald Trump.
A three-member Taliban team arrived in Kabul last month to begin the prisoner exchange process. Last week, Afghan officials said they would release 100 Taliban prisoners who were sick or over the age of 50.
In exchange, the Taliban were expected to free 20 members of the Afghan security forces. Ultimately both sides would aim to release the 6,000 prisoners they are holding.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed the arrival in Kabul of the Taliban team as good news.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Pompeo last month travelled to Kabul and the Qatari capital of Doha in a bid to nudge the prisoner process forward.
Reuters / ABC